Sometimes, sharing healthcare predictions can feel a bit like a song on repeat. We are still recovering from — and in many instances dealing with — the COVID-19 pandemic. The staffing shortage that was bad before is now at a critical point, which is only causing more staff to leave the field. And issues of health inequities persist, with maternal mortality rates in the country shockingly low despite a spike in attention in the past few years.
But just beyond the challenges and frustrations that so many across healthcare feel so acutely is subtle progress — evolution in how leaders think about the healthcare experience as a whole.
Will this be the year the industry begins to rethink patient engagement as a necessary strategic priority rather than a “nice to have” or added expense? Will organizations lean into digital technology as part of the care team to help relieve the burden and stress on their clinical teams? Will screening for social determinants of health become a standard way of providing personalized care to traditionally underserved patients?
Whether they are expectations or merely hopes, Get Well leaders weighed in on their 2023 healthcare predictions.
Prediction #1: Digital intimacy through consumer healthcare technology will win the day
Digital intimacy at scale will unlock much needed revenue for healthcare providers and payers in 2023, predicts Get Well CEO Michael O’Neil. It’s been a tough year for healthcare, with the vast majority of hospitals and health systems facing financial challenges. These worsening healthcare financial conditions and persistent labor challenges are forcing health systems to do more with less.
However, patient engagement, when done well, can be a profit center, says O’Neil. In 2023, those who are able to reimagine patient engagement as a strategic imperative and prioritize digital intimacy will be able to move the needle in terms of both patient outcomes and the bottom line.
We have the power to engage in their healthcare right in the hands of patients, says Chelsea King Arthur, Get Well’s VP of Population and Digital Health Solutions. She adds that the industry would be remiss to overlook that opportunity to meet people where they are. “The barrier to entry is very low. The cost to entry is low, as long as you’re providing services in a way that is accessible,” Arthur concludes.
This mindset is already flipping the economics of patient engagement for health systems like Adventist Health. O’Neil believes the key to success here is providing the three Cs of healthcare: clarity, convenience, and compassion.
Patients need healthcare to be clear. Heavy investment in patient navigation is critical. Through digital navigation that is augmented by actual people behind the technology, we can make the next step of the healthcare journey clear, enabling patients to better self manage their care but also feel supported.
Patients need healthcare to be convenient. According to Pew Research Center, 100% of adults ages 18–29 own a cell phone, with 96% owning a smartphone. Eight-five percent of all U.S. adults own a smartphone. Bring the healthcare experience to them through AI and SMS texting — the most common way people communicate today.
Patients need healthcare to be compassionate. Ensure that the content you are using as part of your digital technology strategy is empathetic and written in plain language. And then layer in virtual navigators — real people who live in neighborhoods you’re serving, who understand the local vernacular, who speak the language.
Prediction #2: Long-standing silos start to dissolve, creating new opportunities
The healthcare industry has traditionally viewed workforce challenges and patient engagement and experience challenges as two separate things; however, it’s becoming increasingly clear those two things are inextricably linked. Stressed and overworked staff leads to stressed and more demanding patients. O’Neil says that in 2023, closer collaboration between the chief strategy officer and the chief nursing officer will be the way to go.
In addition, we must figure out how to fully integrate digital technology as part of the care team — to relieve clinicians and provide a better patient experience. Get Well recently launched its Get Well Together initiative, which is dedicated to improving the healthcare experience for both patients and clinicians. Through the same technology, patients can have the consumer-centric experience they have come to expect in other industries — like food delivery, banking, and travel — and clinicians can have the experience that allows them to dedicate more time to the activities that improve care delivery.
Technologies that help align the goals of both the CSO and CNP will start to reverse this cycle and become a leverage point for new innovation. In an article published in the December issue of JONA: The Journal of Nursing Administration, Katherine Virkstis, VP, Clinical Advisory Services at Get Well, and co-author Karen Drenkard, Phd, RN, note that “technology can make life easier for medical professionals and patients alike.” In particular, digital technology should be considered part of the care team, helping to “relieve the burden on the clinical nurse by enabling some responsibilities to be automated and more expedient, freeing time for nurses to prioritize more critical patient needs.”
Prediction #3: Healthcare policy will start to catch up
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed some really critical points, says Arthur. Namely, we have a health equity problem in this country. Although it was known before in healthcare circles, the pandemic forced it into the mainstream.
Naming social determinants of health (SDOH) as an important trend for not just next year but the next five to 10 years, Arthur emphasizes that SDOH isn’t just a buzzword. It is real people’s lives and their actual lived experiences. The next step is collecting this data and determining how to use this information to provide better care to underserved populations. “What populations are we abandoning, if we don’t push equity as an important tenant to healthcare delivery across this country? We’re leaving the same populations that we’ve already underserved behind again in a very different way,” she says.
Arthur notes that without a shift from the policy side, we won’t see the strides in health equity so many in the industry have been working toward. “To truly achieve vast health equity across this country, we have to see it from a reimbursement standpoint. We have to see it from a policy standpoint,” she says.
Arthur predicts that in 2023, reimbursement plans will be based on SDOH and will be risk-stratified. In 2023, she believes CMS will finally recognize this and start reimbursing for social determinants of health. Those policies are also likely to be risk stratified to help support providers offer the right level of care for various sub-populations.
COVID-19 also gave light to the mental health crisis in this country — from both an adult and youth perspective. In 2023, we hope to see an expansion of innovative partnerships that can address and expand the work being done to help young people dealing with behavioral health challenges.
Next year will be the year that mental health platforms will start to be completely covered by commercial and federal coverage plans, predicts Arthur. We can expect behavioral health platforms and services to continue advancing in 2023, but the market will start encountering structural shifts by broadening its openings within both commercial and federal coverage plans, says Arthur.
For example, we’ll start to see mental health apps such as Headspace be covered by healthcare plans. This coverage shift will not only allow for easier access to mental health platforms across populations, but will push individuals to take more of an active role in their healthcare journey.
Prediction #4: Healthcare staffing crisis calls for disruption
Health systems are facing an unprecedented workforce crisis. Record high staff vacancies are leaving clinical staff exhausted and overwhelmed, resulting in even more turnover — 18% median bedside RN turnover, 38% average patient care technician turnover — and that doesn’t include a growing physician shortage.
Virkstis says that in 2023, hospitals and healthcare systems must figure out a way to create more flexible staffing options to accommodate the needs of healthcare staff. This will be necessary to keep up with rising care complexity and the current healthcare staff shortage, which is pushing experienced nurses to retire early,
“We have a workforce that is in dire need of something different, bold and creative — something that our current system does not allow for,” says Virkstis. Whether that’s shortening the work week without a decrease in compensation or investing in virtual care tools that allow hybrid work options (like the recently launched Uber for Nurses app), we can expect these demands to prompt a different way of thinking when looking at the next generation of care models and teams.
“Our thesis at Get Well is that consumerism in healthcare and workforce challenges are inextricably linked,” says O’Neil. He predicts that the greatest opportunity to create a “flywheel of value” will be where healthcare consumers and nurses intersect “because a more informed, engaged, activated, confident patient is a better patient” and can better self-manage some of the activities nurses traditionally are called upon to perform.
When a patient has a better experience, nurses are more fulfilled, and “a more effective and efficient nurse will have more time to deliver the kind of care they want to deliver to patients, in a compassionate, personalized way,” says O’Neil. Virkstis agrees that this is the way forward in 2023, adding that “health systems can no longer afford to rely on highly skilled RNs to manage work more appropriately performed by clinical support staff.”
Prediction #5: Greater prioritization of early mastery, social connections, and professional development
In the upcoming year, Virkstis predicts that healthcare employers will need to quickly adapt to Gen-Z needs as more graduates and new nurses enter the workforce. This new generation of employees expect healthcare employers to focus on three basic needs: early mastery, social connections, and professional development.
Gen Z workers — those born between 1997 and 2012 — were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 in terms of their work experience, as they entered the field at a time of great turmoil and challenges. A survey from the American Nurses Foundation and Joslin Insight conducted in March 2022 found that Gen Z nurses, along with their millennial counterparts, identified four themes among their replies: work-life balance, better pay, more support and improved working conditions.
As outlined by Becker’s Hospital Review, today’s younger nurses are looking for on-the-job training and continuing education opportunities, mental health and financial support, recognition, improved working conditions, long-term workforce solutions, flexible work schedules, and patience.
In order to meet the needs of what we hope will be a crop of new clinicians to start the climb out of a severe shortage, Virkstis notes there will need to be further investment in advanced training, along with formalizing programs to ensure nurses stay connected to their organizations and build strong social connections with mentors and health professionals.
This also means addressing the long-standing issue of workplace violence. Healthcare workers are five times more likely to get injured at work than all other workers, and incidents of violence and other point-of-care safety threats have risen nearly every year for two decades, notes Virkstis. The next wave of digital and smart technology can make safety and security more transparent and enable more effective communication. But even the smartest technology is only effective with targeted human intervention, says VIrkstis. She predicts that in 2023, “healthcare leaders will build comprehensive plans that combine “high-tech” with “high-touch” strategies.”
The bottom line
It sounds cliche to say the healthcare industry is on the brink of a breakdown, but that just might be true as we head into 2023. Consumer expectations for their healthcare experience are shifting, and patients today have fewer concerns with packing up and heading to a different provider if those expectations aren’t being met. The staffing shortage is causing healthcare systems to get creative and innovative or risk breaking entirely — something nobody wants or can afford.
But with a concerted effort to bring digital technology in as part of the care team and work to achieve true digital intimacy and personalization, we can make 2023 one of progress — a turning point rather than a breaking point.